The Biden administration signed a security agreement with the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain on Wednesday, deepening its commitment to defend the authoritarian country from attacks.
The format of the agreement could serve as a template for other Gulf Arab governments that have demanded stronger security guarantees from the United States, including the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Bahrain — an island nation that is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet — has a particularly tense relationship with Iran, located across the Persian Gulf. Under the new agreement, if the kingdom were attacked, the United States would consult with the Bahraini government and determine the best way to “confront the ongoing aggression,” said a senior Biden administration official, who briefed journalists on the condition of anonymity.
One of the provisions in the agreement allows Bahrain and the United States to invite other countries to join the pact, the official said.
Both Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have faced attacks from Iran-backed militias, such as the Houthi rebel group that controls northern Yemen, and officials from both countries have complained that American responses to those attacks were inadequate.
Recently, Saudi officials have been requesting greater American security assurances as a prerequisite to establishing relations with Israel — an initiative the Biden administration has been pursuing over the past few months.
Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken signed the pact, called the “Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement,” on Wednesday in Washington.
The administration official said that both countries had committed to “confront any external aggression.” While the agreement “does not cross the threshold of a treaty” — which would require Senate consent — it is intended as a binding pledge to deter conflict in the Middle East, the official said.
“We’re looking forward to using this agreement as a framework for additional countries that may wish to join us and strengthen regional stability, economic cooperation and technological innovation,” Mr. Blinken said during the signing ceremony.
The agreement is likely to anger Bahraini activists and other critics of the Gulf monarchy, which crushed an uprising that swept the kingdom in 2011, during the Arab Spring. When Mr. Biden assumed office, he declared that his diplomacy would be “rooted in America’s most cherished democratic values,” including human rights and “defending freedom.”
A Bahraini human rights activist called the Biden administration hypocritical for supporting a government that is accused of detaining hundreds of political opponents and critics.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of advocacy at the Britain-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, said that the security agreement constituted a “reward” that Bahraini authorities could interpret as “a green light” to increase political repression.
The agreement was signed a day after hundreds of Bahraini prisoners who had been refusing meals for more than one month announced they were suspending their hunger strike amid deteriorations in their health, and government pledges to improve their conditions. Their collective action had sparked street protests in Bahrain.
The Biden administration said in a statement that human rights were a key part of dialogue between the two countries. The senior official said that Washington does not “shy away” from raising such issues with Bahrain.
Crown Prince Salman, at the signing ceremony, said he believed the agreement would form “the foundation for a new global architecture” that would become historically significant. “It is an open agreement,” he said. “We will be welcoming more members, hopefully.”
Michael Crowley contributed reporting from Washington.